Seaford Natural History Society - Committee

Chairman - Jim Howell e-mail

Vice-Chairman - Vacant

Secretary - Susan Painter e-mail

Treasurer - Richard Mongar

Editor - Andrew Painter e-mail

Committee members - Paul Baker, Marion Trew, Colin Whiteman.

 

History of the Society

The Society celebrated its 50th anniversay in 2010, having been formed in March 1960. In recognition our March 2010 magazine included some articles by members past and present on their memories of the Society from its inception. These are reproduced here.

The First 21 years of the Seaford Natural History Society - Anon
Early Days Remembered - Elizabeth Smith
1962 - 2010 With Seaford Natural History Society - Peter Davys
Early Days in the Seaford Natural History Society - Joan Newman

The First 21 years of the Seaford Natural History Society - Anon

The Society was founded in March 1960, following a letter in the local paper from Mr. Hemingway (a Master at Blatchington Court School), who suggested that there must be many people in Seaford interested in the surrounding countryside. A meeting was held and the Society came into being at once. Miss Stack (a retired Headmistress of Oxford High School) being the first President. When she temporarily left the district next year, Mr. Spreadbury became President. He was one of the all round naturalists of the old school, and held the post till 1968. He was a source of encouragement and a mine of information to all the Members until his death at the age of 91. The original aim of the Society was the examination of the local countryside through field meetings held on Saturday afternoons and indoor evening meetings at which members could exchange information and bring specimens for examination, and winter evening lectures on Natural History topics held fortnightly. This basic plan has continued ever since, but has been expanded as the years passed. From the beginning, an annual whole or half day field meeting by coach was held each summer, some of the places visited being Ashdown Forest; Bedgebury Pinetum; Sheffield Park; Wye in Kent; Dungeness; Rye Harbour; Selwyns Wood; Arundel Wild Fowl Trust; Warren Glen, Hastings; and Selbourne.

The next expansion of the Society's activities was the publication of a magazine called The Seaford Naturalist. The first number was issued in July 1965, and it has continued quarterly ever since. As well as brief reports of Field meetings and winter lectures, and regular Insect and Bird notes, it contains articles by members on almost every aspect of Nature. These articles include lists of flowers to be looked for round Seaford; reports of plants growing in Friston Forest; notes on the numbers of various migratory birds; sightings of rare birds, butterflies and insects; lists of fungi; notes on oil pollution and sites of special interest and a host of other subjects. The sea shore and geology have their places too. Local weather notes have been a regular feature since 1966.

Some time about 1973, a group of members started meeting on Saturday mornings all through the winter for a nature walk. No programme is arranged beforehand, so that it is possible to adapt to anything of interest that occurs. This activity has now extended to all Saturdays throughout the year (a picnic lunch is taken, and the walk usually lasts till 2 or 3 o'clock). In 1963 and 1965 the Society joined in the National Nature Weeks by arranging exhibitions in a local shop, and book displays in the windows of two other shops, and also arranged local field meetings for the general public. For the last few years the Society has put a display in the library window for two weeks in the early autumn. This is partly with the idea of attracting new members, but also to give people a little insight into the varied nature about us. Some displays have been of general interest but others have had a theme, for example "Local Poisonous Plants"; "The Oak and Its Insect and Bird Associates"; "The Cuckmere River".

From the start the Society has been a member of the Council for Nature, and the Sussex Trust for Nature Conservation. The Society has a representative on the Committee of the Seaford Head Nature Reserve. In 1966 an association called the Sussex Flora Society was formed with the object of publishing a new flora of Sussex, there not having been one since that of Wally Dodd, published in 1937. (Since the data for that was collected, there have been great changes in the countryside.) Several of the Seaford Natural History Society's members took part in this project over the next twelve years. The were each allotted a "2km square", i.e. An area 2km x 2km, and attempted to record every species to be found in that area. This was happening all over Sussex and resulted in the publication of the Sussex Plant Atlas in 1980. Our members still take an interest in this, watching for plants not recorded in the Atlas, and sending details to be incorporated in future revisions. While on the subject of recording, our Society keeps records in its own area, and has members appointed as Recorders in Plants, Fungi, Butterflies and Moths. Recently Mr. Colin Pratt of Peacehaven has published a "History of the Butterflies and Moths of Sussex", and he has been interested to go through the Society's records and our present Recorder will keep in close touch with him.

Through the years the members have worked with other naturalists and biology workers on an occasional basis. One is to act as leaders for naturalist groups visiting the area for a week, weekend or day. People interested in some particular plant are sometimes taken to the places where they can be found (we have several rare plants in our district). Another way in which help can be given is in the collection of material or information for research workers further away. In the last two summers we have recorded colour variation in a small spider for a worker in Newcastle-on- Tyne and also sent seeds of the greater knapweed to another worker, who was investigating the chromosomes of that plant. A research on the occurrence of helleborines similar to the broad-leafed one is being made in Sussex and members of our Society have sent details from all the sites that they know.

Our membership for many years has fluctuated between 90 and 100. Of these some 30-40 are active members, others might be described as interested supporters who enjoy the magazine (which is included in the subscription). Most of our members are people who enjoy the countryside and are interested in all that goes on there, but they are not in any sense professionals - a lack of knowledge is no bar to joining in our activities, and people are amazed and delighted by the extra interest that they find about them through coming on walks.

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Early Days Remembered - Elizabeth Smith

I joined Seaford Natural History Society in 1968 when it was only a few years old. The Society grew from the initiative of Mr. Hemingway, a young and inspiring scientist who advertised in the local paper for anyone who might be interested in forming a natural history club. He was joined by Mr. Spreadbury, a wonderfully knowledgeable and charming man, who could identify any form of wildlife which came his way. He became the "eminence grise" of the club.

Then there was Dr. Ramsden, who lived at the Sanctuary in Alfriston and watched birds, and Miss Stack, retired headmistress of Oxford High School for Girls. Another early member was Miss Kneller, a shy lady, loved by all, who never tired of helping members to find and identify specimens. So it was a prestigious start for the Society. Members enjoyed the programme of country walks led by Mr. Spreadbury and Mr. Hemingway in the summer, and indoor talks or members' meetings in the winter.

Seaford was a paradise for country lovers. The chalk downs all around and the numerous other habitats within easy reach meant there were always interesting items to be seen. Parts of Friston Forest had only recently been planted - the Downs were still recognisable in places, and as the woods grew, miraculously, exciting woodland plants such as helleborine and yellow birds nest established themselves. Birds were just as plentiful; in the Cuckmere Haven to the east and Tide Mills to the west ringed plovers nested in the shingle, purple sandpipers spent the summer on the jetty at Newhaven, wheatears paraded on our lawn, and orchids grew on it in the autumn.

At this time a Flora of Sussex was being compiled by Mr. and Mrs. Hall and others in conjunction with the Sussex Flora Society, and they invited any members of the Seaford Society who could recognise the species to help with the recording. Each member was allotted a quadrant on a map of Sussex and was asked to record all plant species growing there, throughout the year. This recording continued for seven or eight years after which the "Flora of Sussex" was published. For me this was a very happy prelude to my forty years with the society.

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1962 - 2010 With Seaford Natural History Society - Peter Davys

In the early winter of 1962/63 I met a Chris Hemingway in West Dean village (he happened to be a founder member of our society). I was living there at the time as a foreman with the Forestry Commission and I expect I was admiring something or other and got talking to him. He asked if I would be interested in joining the society, which I did, but was transferred in 1964 to Chiddingfold Forest.

In 1971, being moved to Abbots Wood, I rejoined the society. I remember in the early days the society met in a big building on the main road, near the station; I cannot recall the name of the place. I remember planting a weeping willow by the pond at West Dean in 1962 which today is quite a big tree - nice to see it doing so well. At that time the trees behind the Seven Sisters Centre were being planted as a mixture of beech and Corsican pine, but due to the heavy grass infestation most of the beech died, so elms were ordered to replace them. English elms were expected, but unfortunately small smooth-leaved elms came instead; they did well until the early 1970's when along came Dutch elm disease, nevertheless some continue to thrive, long may they do so.

I remember being rebuked by a founder member - not Chris Hemingway - for enquiring into one member's occupation! It was very formal then, no christian names, always Mr, Mrs, Dr or whatever; it was quite an academic society, the founder members were teachers or retired teachers and notes were taken by a member of what was said at the meetings - Miss Kneller (Nell) did this for many years (the pink hawthorn planted at Blatchington Pond reminds us of her). She was a delightful person who walked for miles to see a plant, she even walked from Seaford to Abbots Wood on occasion.

Mr. Spreadbury must be mentioned as a founder member and pillar of the society, he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of wild life - an ex-teacher from South London retired to Seaford. In those days we had Dartford warblers on Lullington Heath and cirl buntings by the Golden Galleon; both breeders then, both now gone and replaced by little egrets and collared doves! How times change.

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Early Days in the Seaford Natural History Society - Joan Newman

I think I am one of the last remaining members from the seventies. I joined in 1978, and it all really began when my eighteen year old student son, David, used to vanish every Saturday to go out with the Natural History Society. He did not talk much about them, except I gathered they were mainly ladies, and all much older than him. One Saturday, I decided to go with him, partly out of curiosity, but mainly because he was going off to Oxford the next week, and I could not bear to let him out of my sight. At the War Memorial, he introduced me as his mother, which brought a few remarks like, "You look too young to be his mother!" However, I was young in those days, 38 to be exact, but how I enjoyed that afternoon. It was so wonderful to be out in the country with a group of kind and chatty people, and looking at all the fascinating plants, butterflies, trees, birds, etc., and to be told the names, at least of most of them. From then on, I was hooked, and promptly became a member, so that when David went off to Oxford, I had somehwere interesting to go, and lots to learn.

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page updated 6th April 2017